Air Date: Week of February 14, 1997
Steve Curwood talks with reporter Andrea DeLeon about changes that have occured since reporting this story with research findings, policy, in her life and response she received on the piece.
CURWOOD: Joining us now is Andrea De Leon from her post as news director at Maine Public Broadcasting in Portland. Congratulations on your award, Andrea.
DE LEON: Thank you very much, Steve.
CURWOOD: So, first things first. How's your son Carter doing these days?
DE LEON: My son Carter is wonderful. He's 14 months old. He is fully mobile and getting into everything.
CURWOOD: Uh oh.
DE LEON: Trying to climb his way to the ceiling in every room. He's absolutely wonderful.
CURWOOD: And are you still breastfeeding?
DE LEON: I am not breastfeeding. I had always intended that I would breastfeed him for a year, which is what the World Health Organization recommends, and I did make it to a year. At which point he got teeth and got a little bit rambunctious. And it was a pretty sad moment to say goodbye to that. I think we were both ready to do it in a way, but I still miss it a little bit.
CURWOOD: You know, I'm wondering, Andrea, if there are any ways in which your reporting on this story led to a change for you, or your family, in the ways in which you live your lives.
DE LEON: The change that has persisted for me is that I am much more conscious of what I feed the whole family, but particularly my children. I try to feed them very little in the way of animal fat and to, if I can buy organic food, to at least focus on the food that they eat a lot of, like organic apple juice and those kinds of things.
CURWOOD: Did you have a reaction to this piece? What did people tell you?
DE LEON: Yeah, I had a lot of reaction from people in Maine, who know me as a sort of almost a "just the facts ma'am" kind of a journalist, who were touched by the personal part of the story. There were also a number of people who didn't like this story, who felt that anything that questioned the -- how wise it is to breast feed in this day and age was negative and wasn't information that should be put out. But I don't agree with that. I think it's important for people to hear all of the facts, and as I said I have really no doubt that breastfeeding is absolutely the best thing that you can do, even having learned what I learned.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering if you've kept in touch with your sources for this story, and what they're saying now, if you have, a year later.
DE LEON: I have. I've checked in from time to time with one of my sources, Beverly Pagan, who's a senior scientist at the Jackson Lab, which is in Bar Harbour, Maine. And she has stayed very well on top of this subject and has participated in a couple of books about it. I spoke with her recently, and since I did my initial burst of research on the topic there have been several more papers that confirm what I reported. And another one that she's particularly concerned about that came out in 1996 in the journal Science, which was the first study that looked at how these chemicals may work together, whether they are additive, whether a little bit of dioxin and a little bit of the PCB adds together, or what is the effect when you put them together. Since all of our bodies contain just a sort of selection of minute trace amounts of all these things. And what she tells me is that this first study, which was done in tissues, shows a synergistic effect where you have these various substances multiplying the effect that they might have on the endocrine system. And that's very troubling.
CURWOOD: So the story is not really less troubling now. It's perhaps a little more troubling.
DE LEON: I think it's a little bit more troubling, although the things that have been happening, at least where I live within the state of Maine, politically are very encouraging. We've seen the governor of Maine just last week announcing a bill that would force a pretty major phase-out of dioxin, and everybody agrees that it's as much as can be done. But in Maine the paper industry is by and large the source of dioxin and the furans that we worry about. And these issues are really percolating politically. There's a lot of activity and a lot of concern being generated. So I think that that makes me feel very good about what's going on, that there is some movement in the policy arena.
CURWOOD: Andrea, before we go, I've just got to ask you, please excuse me for doing this. But do you have any plans for your prize money?
DE LEON: I don't know. I was thinking about building a chicken coop for a while.
CURWOOD: A chicken coop?
DE LEON: I have a new house, yes. I have a new house and I would like to build to keep chickens in part because of what I've learned in the story has made me more committed than ever to producing as much food as I can. We already -- we're big gardeners and that kind of thing, and I thought it would be nice to use the money to build a chicken coop. But we'll have to see, Steve.
CURWOOD: Okay, Andrea. Talk to you soon.
DE LEON: Okay, thanks very much, Steve.
CURWOOD: Andrea De Leon is reporter and news director at Maine Public Broadcasting in Portland, and winner of this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Radio Journalism.
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